Archive for June, 2008

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Burlington Telecom’s Al Jazeera Dilemma

June 1, 2008

Something has been looming in the back of my consciousness. It has barely made it on the radar through all the intensity of my own April and May projects. Last night, it came bursting through. I caught a rebroadcast of the May 27th Burlington Telecom public hearing at Contois Auditorium. The question under discussion was whether the Al Jazeera English network should be pulled from the lineup.

In theory, I love Sunday mornings. It’s Spring. School is out, I’ve returned from two back-to-back trips, got 13 artworks submitted to an exhibition, made good progress with the tee shirt design committee for Branch Out Burlington, the garden is 80% in, scored some great plants at the farmers market Saturday, and managed a decent bike ride up and down the hills of Burlington. So, hadn’t I earned a lazy morning off to read, lounge in bed, hang out with Pixel, hang out in the garden? But the workings of my subconscious, stirred up by last night’s rebroadcast, bubbled through immediately upon my awakening…. So here goes – perhaps a draft of what I ultimately send to the reviewing committee:

We live in a democracy. Democracy means nothing if our public and well-intended projects can so easily be derailed by a small but powerful and vocal few. Democracy ought to be supportive of all voices. Anti-Al Jazeera folks wish to have the Arabic network removed from the BT menu. How is this different from censorship? Are we so provincial that we need to be protected from the very forces that should enlighten us?

I am not a Jew and I am not in Israel. But if I was, I would listen to Al Jazeera; the same way I occasionally catch Fox news, for the different points of view. Occupied minds are the most vulnerable to debate-stifling discourse; discourse which by the way, in our current kerfuffle seems suspiciously familiar. Are the oppositionists perhaps the same folks that were so intent to bring about a censorship of the South End Art Hop last fall?

Instead of being a tool for education, a media that succumbs to such pressure is not very different than mainstream media that serves, and is an integral part of, the dominant culture, otherwise known as the corporate (military-medical-education-prison-agro-academic- industrial complex) culture. But there are differences and let’s fight for them. Burlington Telecom is not directly beholden to structures grounded by corporate economic, social and political interests. Those media that are don’t need the careful nurturing that our local venture has had and continues to need, if it is to offer the free interplay of diverse voices.

We are in an age of hyperconsciousness. As a community, our very careful, deliberate and thoroughgoing efforts toward inclusion serve us well. The better informed we are, the better we behave as a community. As an employee and a customer of BT, I am going to be very disappointed if we lose Al Jazeera– not that I get to see it all that often. I would love to, but it is not in the current basic package. From the little bit that I have seen thanks to RETN, it is not at all as the detractors portray: I have not seen even subtle or nuanced broadcast of hate, there is no subtext of Islamic extremism, the programs seem to be no less diverse than CNN, and I think they are more diverse than Fox. I do not glean a slap in the face of Jews by the humanizing of Arabic culture.

What happens in Burlington doesn’t stay in Burlington. To delete Al Jazeera sets a dangerous precedent. If we are to have any moral or social commitment, let it be to let a thousand flowers bloom, and be the Burlington that we really can be: open, welcoming, growing, searching…but also with a bit of the edginess that struggle, differences, and unfortunately even hurt feelings and disappointments bring.

Now, off to my garden with me. or to BT doorknocking…

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